State visit of V. Putin to Netherlands: press statement and answers to journalists’ questions following Russian-Dutch talks

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

Today we had a packed, substantive day. As Mr Prime Minister just mentioned, together with Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands we took part in the ceremony launching reciprocal cultural years – the Year of Russia in the Netherlands and the Year of the Netherlands in Russia.

This is a large-scale, multidimensional project. Over 350 cultural, educational and scientific events will be held. The Netherlands will hold Russian Language Days, and the Mariinsky Theatre from St Petersburg will come here on tour. There will also be exhibitions with collections from Russian museums, including the current exhibition on our reforming tsar, Peter the Great. I believe these events will bring our peoples even closer together, increasing the level of trust between the citizens of our nations.

Mr Prime Minister and I had a very substantive discussion in both restricted and expanded formats. The Netherlands is among Russia’s most important foreign trade partners. Our mutual turnover in 2012 grew to a record high of $83 billion. Experts use different estimates here, saying that the final product leaves the Netherlands and passes through other nations, including Germany. But in any event, this is a very good figure indeed.

Dutch companies are among the leading investors into the Russian economy. The overall volume of capital investments from the Netherlands is $61 billion. We know and understand that this is partially the repatriation of Russian capital, but we are grateful to the Dutch government and our partners for creating favourable conditions and promoting this mutual exchange.

I would like to say that Russian companies are also showing more interest in working in the Netherlands; Russian businesses are actively entering this market. Russian companies have already invested $30 billion in Holland.

We have spent many years cooperating closely in the energy sector. You all know this well. Over two billion cubic metres of gas are supplied to the Netherlands through the Yamal-Europe pipeline. Our Dutch partners are participating in the construction of Nord Stream, our pipeline project, which is of pan-European significance. Just now, Gazprom and Gasunie signed a Memorandum of Intent to increase the pipeline capacity. Also, Europe’s largest gas storage tank is being built here. I want to point out that it will provide gas for up to 2.5 million households.

The transit of a significant quantity of Russian crude oil to global markets is being conducted through Dutch ports. In turn, Dutch companies are participating in the development of enormous oil and gas reserves. The Shell group, with which we have very positive and business-oriented relations, produces liquefied natural gas in Sakhalin and is a shareholder in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. We are examining opportunities for joint work in Yamal and on the continental shelf of the Kara Sea. Just now, we spoke briefly with the company’s management about additional opportunities.

We are not limiting ourselves to cooperation in the traditional sectors. Russia and the Netherlands are developing a strategic partnership in the area of sea transport with plans to build large LNG tankers in Russian shipyards. We are actively working on alternative energy sources.

I would like to note the dynamic development of bilateral technology and innovation cooperation. The well-known and globally respected Philips company produces medical equipment in Russia. The Royal DSM group is planning to launch production of vitamin and mineral complexes. And so on, and so forth. We will certainly support all this very actively.

We feel it is highly important to strengthen contacts in science and education, broadening student and academic contacts. Russian and Dutch scientists are working on joint projects in chemical technologies, nanomaterials and in other areas.

Interregional ties are also developing. We just witnessed the signing of a number of agreements that involve direct participation by Russian regions.

During the talks, we gave particular attention to cooperation between Russia and the EU. We very much hope the rough patches that sometimes arise with our partners from the European Commission and whose resolution is clearly in the interest of individual EU members will be perceived by our partners with understanding, including here in Holland, and we will have their support. I am referring to the interest in developing economic ties not just on a bilateral but also a multilateral level.

Thank you very much for your attention.

QUESTION: If you don’t mind, I will depart somewhat from the issues of the Russian-Dutch relations. Today, as you must know, we have received the sad news of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Can you tell us your opinion of the former Prime Minister’s contribution to building modern Europe and strengthening European security?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Margaret Thatcher was one of the most brilliant political figures in the modern world. I knew her personally, and she always made a strong impression.

As for her contribution, she was a pragmatic, tough and consistent politician. That approach helped the UK to recover from the recession at the time. We all know that she came under harsh criticism for some of her policies, including the budgetary restrictions and limiting trade unions’ rights. But I think in an emergency, and the situation was indeed critical at the time, her actions proved to be effective. I think the British people should be grateful to her for that.

She made a significant contribution to the development of the British-Soviet and British-Russian relations, for which we will always be indebted to her and will remember her efforts with gratitude.

I believe that we have lost a major political figure. I regret this and would like to offer my condolences on behalf of the Russian leadership to the British Government and the British people.

QUESTION: Mr Putin, could you please tell us if Mr Rutte touched on the human rights issues and the protection of homosexuals’ rights in your country? And what is your position regarding this?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We spoke in detail on the problems of human rights, including the rights of sexual minorities. There is no secret here and I can very briefly clarify our position.

I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no infringement of the sexual minorities’ rights in the Russian Federation. They are no different from everybody else and enjoy all the rights and freedoms. As President of the Russian Federation, I see it as my duty to protect their interests and rights since they are Russian citizens and have no other President.

In this regard, I want to note that homosexuals in Russia have successful professional careers, receive state awards, medals, honorary titles and diplomas, if they deserve them. All of this is part of our political life, and I’m confident it will continue to be so in the future.

With regard to the issues that cause concern among our partners in Europe, including the Netherlands (i.e. the laws that have been adopted in the Russian regions prohibiting propaganda of homosexuality, which concern above all the promotion of homosexuality in schools), I want to draw your attention to the fact that those decisions were made in the regions and reflect the attitude of Russian society. Those decisions were not triggered by the federal centre. However, I believe we must respect this attitude in society. If we are talking about liberalism and democracy, then we must respect each other, including in the international arena.

Now, let me be absolutely frank and share my position on this issue. I have already said that I believe it is my duty to protect the rights of sexual minorities, but let’s face it: gay marriages do not produce children. Both Europe and Russia are facing a demographic crisis. Of course, we can address this problem by increasing the number of immigrants, and that is one way to resolve this problem. But I would like to see an increase in births primarily among the so-called titular nations: Russians, Tatars, Chechens, Bashkirs, Daghestanis, Jews, and so on – that is, among the peoples who consider Russia their homeland. In this regard, I think we should come to a consensus with this community, negotiate cooperation terms rather than fight, come to an agreement, understand each other and establish certain civilised rules of behaviour. I think it’s possible.

QUESTION: Mr President, many of us have been following you around the world for 13 years, and we were saying earlier that we can’t remember any of your visits of the past 13 years provoking such a level of media controversy.

We saw demonstrations in Germany, in Hannover, where Femen activists staged a topless protest, and here we have seen a rally of sexual minorities.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You’ve been lucky.

QUESTION: I like pretty young women but not rudeness, otherwise everything’s fine.

So, Mr President, there is a lot of tension: the sexual minorities, the Syrian issue. In your opinion, why has your visit to Germany and the Netherlands provoked such a level of confrontation? They don’t understand us anymore? Is this someone’s ill will?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Actually, I have already answered this question when your Dutch colleague asked it, but let me try to be more specific.

I think that we should try to understand each other better, and we can achieve this with your help and your colleagues’ help if you inform each other better.

For example, we talk about non-governmental organisations – everyone says that we shut them down, chase them away, lock them up. Nobody is locking anybody up, and nobody is chasing anybody away. We believe our society has the right to know who finances our non-governmental organisations and how those funds are used, especially when these organisations are involved in domestic political activities.

With regard to sexual minorities, I have already stated my position, but I want to say this again. After all, you live in Moscow, and Moscow is not the same as the rest of Russia. It is our country’s capital and there are different attitudes there. I can’t imagine a court in Moscow allowing an organisation that promotes paedophilia. It is possible in the Netherlands, and there is such an organisation. I can hardly imagine a political party represented in the Russian Parliament that opposes women in politics. But your country has such a party.

We should just listen to each other more carefully, with more respect. Imagine if we had an organisation that promoted paedophilia. I think that in some Russian regions people would come up in arms. The same applies to sexual minorities. I can’t imagine that gay marriage will ever be allowed in Chechnya. Can you imagine that? You know, there would be victims. You must understand what kind of society we live in and build our relationship on that understanding.

As for the young women. You know, I did not have breakfast in the morning. I would have been happy if they had shown me some sausage or bacon, but not the charms they were demonstrating. How do they say it in Ukrainian? I don’t want to get it wrong and offend someone. So, thank God, homosexuals didn’t take their clothes off.

QUESTION: Mr Putin, a Dutch cameraman was killed in 2008, during the Russian-Georgian conflict, and your predecessor promised that there would be an investigation in Russia to find out whether the cameraman had died from Russian fire. Could you tell us about the status of the investigation?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Mr Prime Minister devoted some attention to this matter today. Unfortunately, and I want to apologise to you and to the Prime Minister, I was not able to give him a clear answer because I know nothing about that case.

I assume that Mr Medvedev when he was President acted in accordance with the Constitution and instructed our law enforcement agencies to investigate this tragic case. I will find out when I return to Moscow. I do not know anything about it, but I promised to the Prime Minister that we will come back to this and find out what happened there, what caused that tragedy.

Although, you must understand that during the shooting, when shooting comes from both sides, it must be difficult to determine how someone was killed. He was in the midst of armed clashes.

It takes my breath away sometimes when I watch your colleagues from Russia and other countries working in the hot spots, and to be honest, I pray for their health and their lives. But I understand that it’s your job. I am very sorry that this tragedy occurred. We will try to figure out what happened.